“No Plan B; Just Plan A with Scars”

 

I have been thinking about this for a while now. It seems that with the Lord there is no Plan B. When He tells us to do something, we’d best do it or we will encounters some scars. So it seems to me that there is no Plan B; just Plan A with scars.

Samson tried  his Plan B, but ended up having Plan A with Scars: He lost his eyes. Moses had the scarring of 40 years in the wilderness. David had the soul scarring of losing a baby because of his sin with Bathsheba.

Wouldn’t you agree that obedience is the best first choice? But have you discovered that sometimes Plan A actually includes the scars? I know I have. And the more I study the Life of my Lord Jesus, I discover that the scars were always in the plan. There was never a Plan B. Even as He wrestled in the Garden of Gethsemane, Plan A was never at issue ….

Now I am discovering a bit more of what He meant when He said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 NIV). The cross is a part of Plan A, and, apparently, so are the scars….

Poor Jonah had to learn this the hard way. Too often, I do, too. I’m learning that it is best to respond to the Lord the first time He directs, even if the directions involves scars. Have you found that the scars of  trying to implement a “Plan B” seem to hurt more than the intended scars of Plan A? I have….

Your thoughts.

Main Text— Jonah 1:3a, 17 (ESV)— 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. … 17 And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

You became imitators of us and of the Lord. In spite of a great deal of suffering, you welcomed the word with the joy that the Holy Spirit produces.—1 Thessalonians 1:6 (ISV)

 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.—2 Timothy 3:12 (NKJV)

  Let no one make any more trouble for me, because I carry the scars of Jesus on my own body.—Galatians 6:17 (ISV)

Lord Jesus Christ, as I walk by faith and not by sight, empower me through Your Holy Spirit respond to Your Plan A—straightaway. “Make my hands like Your hands / If they must be wounded / Let all the pain that I will feel / Make me merciful and kind.”* In Your Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

* from “Saviour of the World” by Bob Bennett & Michael Aguilar

“Religious vs. Relationship: A Fuller View?”

If I may, I would like to suggest that most, if not all, believers in Jesus acknowledge we have a relationship and not a religion. We would define religion as a feeble, human attempt through rituals and sacrifices to obtain a relationship with the Almighty; whereas, in a relationship with the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, we have this relationship with the Almighty (YHWH, blessed be His Name) by grace through faith in Jesus, and not by any merit of our own.

But what also seems to follow with many who boast of this relationship is a license not to “do” something religiously because it might smack of religion. Have you found this to be so, too? If we do something religiously, like read the Bible every morning or prayer daily, it might become ritualistic, “so I’d best do it intermittently to avoid such.” Have you heard of this?

As I ponder what the Apostle Paul meant in our main text RE the Athenians in v. 22, “You are very religious,” it became evident to me that this was something of value, something commendable—and a good place to start a conversation. 

But if I have nothing religious in my life, if I have no godly habits that lead to a deeper relationship with Jesus, how can I even relate to those who truly are religious in their religion

True, any godly discipline can become ritualist and an end it itself: vain religion. Indeed, I have found I need to refresh myself in my daily prayer times or my daily Bible readings or weekly fellowships by asking myself, “Why am I doing this? Is this an end it itself or am I drawing closer to Jesus through these endeavors?”

What place do you see religious practices have for sincere followers of the Risen Lord? Do they deepen our relationship with Him? Your thoughts….

Main Text: — Acts 17:22-23 (NIV84)— 22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.— Philippians 4:8–9 (NIV84)

[Jesus] went to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom. …— Luke 4:16 (NIV84)

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

Heavenly Father, refresh my soul with a gush of Grace and the Wind of Your Holy Spirit. Enliven my regular religious activities with Your Holy Spirit as the Lord Jesus Christ’s Life is manifested in both the seen and the unseen activities of my daily walk with You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Pastor Mike

“Was Samson a Prodigal?”

Date: 05-31-15

My Thoughts:

Although brought up in a strong believing home, even dedicated to the Lord at birth, Samson’s name cannot be said without Delilah’s immediately following. So I ask a simple question: Can Samson be considered a prodigal? He lived a rather wild lifestyle, but he didn’t demand of his parents the inheritance. He did demand a dowery for a non-believing wife (see Judges 14:1-7). But the text tells us that this was from the LORD. Further it appears that he did have a problem with women (see Judges 16:1). So when it comes to being under Delilah’s spell, it shouldn’t surprise us that he did trifle with his calling.

But was he a prodigal in the sense of rebelling against his parents’ authority and living a riotous life?

However we want to classify Samson, one thing is clear: He let down his guard with women and ultimately ended up fulfilling his calling severely scarred (i.e., blinded); oh, and dead.

Lifestyle worshiper, what other lessons can we harvest from Samson’s journey? Your thoughts?

Main Text: — Judges 16:15-17 — 15 Then [Delilah] said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when you won’t confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven’t told me the secret of your great strength.” 16 With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death. 17 So he told her everything. “No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite set apart to God since birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.” [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm. — Proverbs 13:20 (NIV84)

Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes, for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life. —Proverbs 6:25-26 (NIV84)

 For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. — 1 Peter 4:3-4 (NIV84)

 Heavenly Father, I choose to humble myself and learn from others’ mistakes and miscues. Set my feet firmly on the rock, the Lord Jesus Christ. Lord Jesus Christ, empower me to live the Life that is pleasing to You. In Your Name, Amen. 

Pastor Mike

“The Entitled Prodigal”

Date: 05-27-15

My Thoughts:

Although the word, “prodigal,” has become synonymous with “wayward, rebellious runaway,”  it actually means “wasteful, extravagant reckless wild living.” I think this fits well with our entitlement culture. It seems to me that prodigals feel an extreme sense of “you owe me for my existence.” Perhaps I am reading too much into today’s main text (Luke 15:11-12), but it appears to me that the younger son is saying, “Father, you owe me. So give me what’s mine (even if it’s ahead of time)!”

Ironically, I have also found that if I chase after a “prodigal,” I only entitle them all the more. I have inadvertently empowered and enabled them in their reckless temper tantrum. And the more I do rescue them, the deeper their sense of entitlement is driven…. Truly a lose-lose scenario.

This is why I admire the father in this story. He did not prevent his son from learning a very difficult lesson—the hard way. Nor did he chase after him. But as I observe the collection of stories in Luke 15, there is a common element of searching, though not as commonly taught. The shepherd diligently searches for the lost sheep—and finds it; the woman fervently searches for the lost coin—and finds it; and the father earnestly searches the horizon for his lost son—and ‘finds’ him! Though the father did not actively run after his son in search of him so as to entitle him again, no, he does eagerly run to his son, once the son has release this sense of entitlement (as evidenced in his returning). Truly, the son came to his senses….

Lifestyle worshiper, have you found that it displeases the Lord when we chase after “prodigals” well before they have come to their senses? I have. And I have done them a grave disservice. Yes, it is painful to remain ‘at home’ and diligently search the horizon, but it is far wiser—for the sake of the “prodigal,” don’t you think? Your thoughts?

Main Text: — Luke 15:11-12 — 11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.  [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again. — Proverbs 19:19 (NIV84)

What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?  —Luke 9:25 (NIV84)

 Everything [the teachers of the law and Pharisees] do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi. — Matthew 23:5-7 (NIV84)

 Heavenly Father, I find it fascinating that You sent Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to seek after the lost sheep of the House of Israel; You sent Him to the lost Samaritan woman at a well; and you sent Him to the lost crowds who were like sheep without a Shepard, but in wisdom He did go after the ‘prodigals’…. And yet He was available if they came to Him. Grant me the wisdom, insight, and courage to do the same. In Jesus’ Name, Amen. 

Pastor Mike

“Explanation of the Word & Becoming a People of the Book”

Date: 03-14-15

The Big Idea: If the Word is indeed the Word of God (and I most assuredly believe it is), then I must do everything I can to accurately interpret the Word so that I will not be putting words in His mouth, right?.

My Thoughts: Even the Apostle Peter had some difficulties with some of the Apostle Paul’s writings (2 Peter 3:16). Even when he literally walked with Jesus, Peter had to ask the Lord, “Explain the parable to us” (see Matthew 15:15). The Ethiopian Eunuch was reading Isaiah 53 and asked Philip to explain it to him (Acts 8:31ff). Dare I supposed I need not to ask for explanation of the Word?

I have found that to become a People of the Book, I need to rightly interpret the Word of God. In order to do this, I need to interpret its meaning in the proper context: Literary, historical and cultural context. Sometimes I need to read a good commentary or ask one who has study the Word longer than I have or who has a particular expertise in a language or given area of history…. I try to surround myself with people like this.

If the Word is indeed the Word of God (and I most assuredly believe it is), then I must do everything I can to accurately interpret the Word so that I will not be putting words in His mouth, right?

If our God is sovereign over time, and if He has breathed Life into the Words of this Book, then it follows that His Words can span time and culture. His Words go beyond any ‘first century worldview’ or 21st century deconstruction attempts. His Word is eternal and valid for all cultures and times….

On my journey becoming a People of the Book, I have learned some simple guidelines of interpretation: First, I make observations of the text prior to reading any commentaries. I focus on the verbs and participles in their original language, moving to key nouns and adjectives. Then I move to interpretation, asking such questions as what was the context of the original audience, what is the context of the passage in the Bible, and how does the author use these particular words. Once I come up with some contextual interpretation of the Word, I move to application. I have found that following both of the first two steps avoids any misapplication and putting words in the Holy One’s mouth. What I have also learned is, much of the time this is hard and sacred work. Sometimes I have discovered that what I thought the passage said actually was my bias taking it out of context. …. Have you found this to be so, too? Has the Word presently come alive to you in ways that it has not in the past?   Share your story about your journey becoming a People of the Book as you get explanations of the Word.

Main Text: — Nehemiah 8:8— They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read. [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

 Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. — 2 Timothy 2:15 (NLT)

 The disciples came to [Jesus] and asked, “Why do You speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”  —Matthew 13:10-12 (NIV84)

Every word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words, or He will rebuke you and prove you a liar. — Proverbs 30:5-6 (NIV84)

Pastor Mike

“Exposure to the Word”

Date: 03-13-15

The Big IdeaI went from being exposed to the Word to fill the hunger in my soul, to being a collector of Bibles to fill my intrigue.

My Thoughts: As I continued on my journey with Jesus to become a People of the Book, I found that daily exposure to His Word fed a deep longing and an intense hunger for Him. Intriguingly, shortly after committing my life to the Lord Jesus, I was handed a little green New Testament with the Psalms and Proverbs (which I devoured, camping in John & the Proverbs). Another gave me a Living Bible paraphrase of the New Testament, which I found easier to read. Then I set out to purchase my first Bible, a Thompson Chain reference for $35! (I vividly recall my mother saying why buy such an expensive Bible….) Still another friend gave me a Scofield  Study Bible. The NIV New Testament came out, so I devoured one of those, too…. Suddenly, I went from having no Bibles to an entire library of Bibles….

Shortly after this, I had the honor of joining a small group call Underground Evangelism. It was there I learned that many Christians throughout the world had no Bibles at all. I went home and counted how many Bibles I had. Between a close friend and myself we had 45 Bibles. Now, in truth, I had read all of them at some point, but I could not use all of them, so I began giving them away, keeping only the few I had had in the very beginning….

All this is to say, I went from being exposed to the Word to fill the hunger in my soul, to being a collector of Bibles to fill my intrigue. Oh, I could rationalize why I had so many Bibles, but really how many could I read at once and then how many did I really need?

Have you found on your journey as a People of the Book, that the real challenge is reading the one Bible you may possess? Even now as a pastor, I still read the Word, but often strictly for sermon preparation. I have even caught myself a couple of times never opening my printed Bible—since now I have many of the 45 Bibles back in digital form. Perhaps you can join me in committing to exposing ourselves to the Word as they did in Nehemiah’s day: “Day after day”?  Do you have a story you’d like to share about reading the Word as a People of the Book?

Main Text: — Nehemiah 8:18— Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the feast for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly. [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

[Jesus] went to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom. And He stood up to read.— Luke 4:16 (NIV84)

Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” —Mark 12:24-27 (NIV84)

I arise before dawn and cry for help; I wait for Your words. My eyes anticipate the night watches, That I may meditate on Your word.— Psalm 119:147148 (NASB95)

Pastor Mike

“Remain at Your Post”

Date: 02-14–15

Text: — Nehemiah 6:10-13 — 10 One day I went to the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was shut in at his home. He said, “Let us meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and let us close the temple doors, because men are coming to kill you—by night they are coming to kill you.” 11 But I said, “Should a man like me run away? Or should one like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!” 12 I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me. [NIV84]

The Big Idea: When faced with opposition, stand strong and stay at your post.

My Thoughts: 

Truly, there are those times we need to withdraw and regroup, but there are also those times when we stand strong and stay at our post. We do this for several reasons. Nehemiah shows us that one reason is being a strong leader, one must demonstrate integrity by remaining strong at our post. V. 11 above teaches me this: “should a man like me.” Nehemiah was a man of integrity, and as a wise and strong leader, he did what he expected those he led to do: Do not be intimidated by the enemy’s lies; stand strong at your post!

Lifestyle worshiper, right now you may be enduring lies and misinformation about you or your circumstances. You may be encountering those who are trying to intimidate you into ‘leaving your post’. Stand strong! Remain at your post. And do this not just for your own integrity’s sake, but also for the sake of those you are posted to protect! You are building walls from the debris of broken relationships. Your success may not be as evident to you as it is to others, but many are looking to you. They see your courage, your integrity, and your faithfulness. Stand strong! Remain at your post!

Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  — Ephesians 6:10-11 (NIV84)

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. — Gal. 6:9 (NASB95)

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” — Joshua 1:9 (NASB95)

  Lord Jesus Christ,  be my strength as I stand against the schemes of the wicked one. You desire to rebuild! He has come to tear down. You restore. He scatters. You heal. He wounds. Blessed be Your Name for You are greater in and through me than he that is in the world. Amen.

Pastor Mike

“Letting Go of Our Stuff”

Date: 10-03-14

Text: 1 John 2:15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. [NIV84]

The Big Idea: Have we minimized this word ‘love’ each time we read the above verse?

My Thoughts: 

Have you ever said, “Boy, I’d give an arm and a leg for that!”? Or something very similar? What hardcore sacrifices are you willing to make to purchase something? Is this ‘agapé’ Love?

Lifestyle worshipers, in this morning’s Heartwork devotion focus verse (above), the word for Love is agapé. Have we minimized this each time we read it? I wonder if I have? I know that there are things I’d ‘love’ to have, but these feelings have diminished over the years. But are there things I’d love to not depart with? I’m sure I could list many—and the list may be uncomfortably long. How long would your list be?

Let’s take some time today—the rest of the week even—to not just ask ourselves what do we love to hold onto, but really ask ourselves what can we  really do without? Again, this is why it is called ‘heartwork’.

Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

— 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV84)

Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?

— Luke 16:10-11 (NIV84)

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

— 1 Timothy 6:17-19 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, forgive me for holding on too tightly to the things of this world. May I see them as tools You’ve blessed me with to bless others and advance Your Kingdom. May Your will be done on earth and in me as it is done in heaven. In Your Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

“A Parent’s Reward”

Date: 8-28-14

Text: Proverbs 28:23  He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue. [NIV84]

The Big Idea: A parent’s reward comes much later than sooner.

My Thoughts: 

Perhaps you are like me: As a parent, I so desperately want for my children to like me. As I look around, I see many a parent who desire this. They desire it so much so that they appear to forego being a parent and very early on act more like their child’s friend. Yet, I’m sure you also know, that if we do not endure their tears when they are young, we will definitely cry later. We have to remember that a parent’s reward comes much later than sooner.

Lifestyle worshipers, this morning’s Proverb can be applied to our parenting as well. Paraphrasing: “Parents who discipline their child will in the end gain more respect/favor than a parent who offers their child inflated praise.” In an age where everyone gets a trophy just for being on the team, or praise for any effort, we need to remember that correction and discipline are necessary for healthy, wholesome growth.

As a coach, I desire my players to be their best, and I cannot afford to offer inflated praise or inaccurate assessments. If I did, they would soon be proven a lie on the court or the field. The same in true with parenting, don’t you think? Have you found that a parent’s reward is later than sooner?

Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

 Parents, don’t come down too hard on your children or you’ll crush their spirits.
     — Colossians 3:21 (The Message)
A rod and a reprimand impart wisdom, but a child left undisciplined disgraces its mother.
     — Proverbs 29:15 (NIV) 
 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
     — Hebrews 12:11 (NIV84)

 Lord Jesus Christ, be the parent in my Life as I discipline and correct my child(ren) in Love. May I realize that as their Mom/Dad, who Loves them dearly, I have a responsibility to be their parent first and then their friend.  In Your Name Amen.

Pastor Mike

“Trust the Wounds of a Friend”

Date: 8-27-14

Text: Proverbs 27:6  Wounds from someone who loves are trustworthy, but kisses from an enemy speak volumes. [ISV]

The Big Idea: He became a curse of us, and by doing so, He has removed any curses.

My Thoughts: 

Perhaps even now it is hard to talk about, especially when the wounds are still festering and raw, but it is still good to know that when friends wound us, it is because they Love us. Yes, they really do care. Interestingly, just yesterday, I was talking to a friend about wounds of friends, and with both of us being poets at heart, we came up with a phrase, “God’s scalpel doesn’t slip.” When the LORD is using His scalpel on us to ‘wound’ us—by cutting away those ‘cancers’ that infest our souls, we need to remember He is a skilled surgeon. Indeed, His scalpel doesn’t slip….

But, lifestyle worshipers, sometimes we think our friend’s scalpel is constantly slipping, slashing us with reckless abandon. But we must remember that even if they are clumsy with their words or don’t use the “proper” tone of voice, they are still speaking to us on this particular issue because they Love us. No more and no less. And even if their scalpel slips a little (or a lot), this, too, the LORD can use….

When this happens, I do is try to remember that it pleased the LORD to bruise Jesus and by His strips we are healed. How do you deal with the wounds of a friend?

Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

   Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief.
     — Isaiah 53:10 (NKJV)
  Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it.
     — Psalm 141:5 (NIV84)
  Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me 
     — Revelation 3:19-20 (NIV84)

 Heavenly Father, as You prune away the dead branches of my life so that Jesus’ Life may produce more fruit, may I endure the hardship as loving discipline, knowing that You Love me and have given Your only Begotten Son for me. In the Lord Jesus’ Name Amen.

Pastor Mike